1590s, "a sneak, one who sneaks," agent noun from sneak (v.). The meaning "rubber-soled shoe" is attested by 1895, American English; so called because the shoe was noiseless. Earlier sneak (1862) was used in the same sense:
The night-officer is generally accustomed to wear a species of India-rubber shoes or goloshes on her feet. These are termed 'sneaks' by the women [of Brixton Prison]. ["Female Life in Prison," 1862]
Related: Sneakers. See also Plimsoll; another early name for them was tackies (1902), from tacky (adj.1).
updated on February 02, 2023